On the evening of Sunday 4th December 2022, I started to miscarry. A large blood clot escaped my body, signalling the end of the life that had been developing within me for the previous 11 weeks and 3 days. We were shocked and heartbroken, we were no longer expecting a baby in June.
I write this in the hope that it might help those who have experienced (or are experiencing) a miscarriage to not feel alone.
Please be warned that there are some descriptions of the physical process here.
After an awful night’s sleep, we phoned the midwife in the morning who confirmed what we already knew to be true, that I was miscarrying. She advised us to follow ‘expectant management’ (naturally letting the miscarriage happen at home) and told me to take painkillers to manage the pain. At that point, any fear I had about what would happen physically was overshadowed by the emotional shock. We broke the news to our parents over the phone, sent messages to the close friends who had known I was pregnant, and I let work know I’d likely be off for the week. With that admin done, we settled ourselves into the process.
We installed ourselves on the sofa and sought distraction through tv and comforting food. Emotions would manage to swell up in the gaps between episodes and we’d cry a bit before pressing play again. The worst of the pain was on Monday and Tuesday evening. I had to breathe through it while keeping a hot water bottle pressed to my lower back. There were many, many trips to the bathroom throughout the days, being scared of what I might see. I also kept changing my mind about how much I wanted to see. I became familiar with the new physical sensation of my uterus expelling tissue and I was surprised by how much there was.
We had to go to A&E on Tuesday night (my 31st birthday) because I suddenly felt very faint after an increase in bleeding. Luckily, I was seen quickly, received really good care and was feeling better by the time I left 3.5 hours later. My blood pressure had dropped due to a reaction called cervical shock which can sometimes happen during miscarriage. The next few days passed with much more distracting tv and many more trips to the bathroom. The last of the pregnancy tissue passed early on Friday morning. The bleeding tapered off over the following week and a negative pregnancy test on Christmas eve was a good sign that the process was complete.
Knowledge of miscarriage
I started the journey of trying to conceive knowing that it takes an average of six months and can take much longer. My disappointment at each period’s arrival betrayed my expectation that we would conceive quickly. Similarly, when I did get pregnant, I knew that the probability of miscarriage was 20-25%, but I expected that we would be in the 80%. To some extent, it’s adaptive for us to underestimate the likelihood of bad things happening to us because otherwise we might never do anything. I don’t think the way the media represents conception, pregnancy and child birth (i.e. very little and not representatively) helps people to have realistic expectations though. Pregnancies are often used as shocking plot points for characters who were not trying to conceive and the positive pregnancy test often seem to be met with everyone’s certainty that if they take no action, they will be caring for a baby in 9 months.
Miscarriages are common. Should they be viewed as a normal part of the conception journey? The current quietness around miscarriage pushes the experience into the realm of shame, especially when pregnancy announcements are made to be loud and Instagram-perfect. Ever since my first period, my body has known what to do each month – cycles that I’ve comfortably ridden along. When we conceived, my body played its role well, increasing the right hormones and taking steps to protect the developing life. Most early miscarriages (miscarriages before 12 weeks) are due to a genetic problem with the developing foetus. The miscarriage most likely wasn’t a mistake by me or my body, it was another example of it doing its job. There were a few tortuous days of dwelling on whether I miscarried because of something I had done, but this reframing and normalisation of miscarriage has helped me to let go of any blame.
When the miscarriage started, I didn’t know much about what to expect of the physical process of miscarrying and it didn’t seem easy to find that information. What would I feel? What would I see? I found reading other women’s experiences incredibly comforting during that week and I am so grateful for the forums and YouTube videos of women describing what they had experienced. I’ve been thankful too for the few representations of miscarriages that I had been exposed to through Fleabag, reading Anna Whitehouse’s book ‘Underbelly’ and Anna Whitehouse’s Instagram posts where she had openly shared her experiences of recurrent miscarriage.
There were times in that first week where the grief felt too big for either of us to think about. I cried at unexpected things, like the first time we thought about going for a walk and it occurred to me that for the past 6 weeks I had been walking through the world with a (mostly) secret identity as a pregnant woman, and now that was no longer true.
On Friday morning, I decided to give the life we had conceived a name. The name provided an emotional container for the experience and enabled me to think about it in a way that was better aligned with what that life meant to me.
My partner came up with the idea of having a living memorial and I really liked this idea too so we bought a little Mandarin bonsai tree that sits on our coffee table. I find it comforting and it provides a sense of safety in moving on. It’s very far from a neat bow to tie around the experience though. There are times when the calm I get from looking the pretty shapes of the leaves on branches gives way to thoughts that when we got that positive pregnancy test on October 14th, I didn’t want this outcome, I didn’t want this tree.
Some of my emotional journey through this experience can be captured through Taylor Swift’s song ‘Bigger than the whole sky’. I was happily pregnant when I first heard it and it was obvious to me that it was about grief of some kind. When I decided to play it on the Sunday though, the lyrics seemed to not just be about grief generally, but specifically about miscarriage and it made me cry. I took it as a sign of emotional healing that when I next listened to the song a few days later, I didn’t cry. I realised that there is a part of the song that doesn’t resonate with how I’ve been wanting to think about the miscarriage. Taylor sings “I’m never gonna meet, what would’ve been, could’ve been, should’ve been you”. For a while now, I’ve been wary of the word ‘should’ appearing in thoughts (my own and other people’s) because ‘should’ usually signals an unhelpful judgement of something. It hasn’t been helpful for me to think that the life we had conceived ‘should’ have continued to develop and been born a healthy baby. Believing that it ‘should’ have lived would leave me with the feeling that there is someone or something to blame for the fact that it didn’t and I strongly believe that there is no sense of closure to be found down that path.
The good with the bad
Naturally, the week of the miscarriage had a lot of horrible, low and painful moments. There was still so much I was grateful for though. First of all, I was grateful that the miscarriage had started when I was home with my partner, just the two of us, rather than at the service station we had been at 2 hours away from home earlier that day. Then I was grateful for all of the support we received from friends and family, the messages of sympathy and shared heartbreak and the simplest of messages to check-in on me throughout the week. I received a homemade ‘box of sunshine’ from a friend, filled with yellow gifts which brought me so much comfort and made me feel loved. My relationships to people have been drawn tighter and stronger through this experience.
My partner still made me a special birthday breakfast on Tuesday and we enjoyed eating our way through the various care packages people had sent us and indulging in takeaways. We risked a walk into town on the Friday to distract ourselves with Christmas shopping for our families.
You may be surprised that we were laughing as we drove home from A&E on the Tuesday night because of the enormous relief we felt at not having to spend the night there. We talked about looking forward to a slice of birthday cake as we were driving up the same bit of road we had been driving down a few hours earlier when Sam had asked me to squeeze his fingers to check that I was still conscious in the passenger seat.
I was also very grateful for feeling safe to tell my manager what was happening. My colleagues were really supportive and it made that week all the easier to deal with. I know many women have had to continue working through miscarriages as they sit at their office desks. Another thing that pushes miscarriages into shame territory is that it’s a ‘giveaway’ for the fact that you’re trying to start a family and therefore might be on maternity leave soon. It’s hard to not let that affect how much you tell work and therefore how much support they might be able to provide.
A positive outcome of my miscarriage experience is that, if it happens to someone I know in future, I will know better how to support them (express sincere condolence, check-in, listen) and they will hopefully find comfort in talking to me as someone who has been through it.
If you’ve been through it or are going through it now, I’m truly sorry. Take care of yourself.
Websites that helped me: